Some insight into the classification of Prog

(Taken and modified from various sources including and the Rec.Music.Progressive FAQ)

A quick note on this page: One of the most defining characteristics of prog is the lack of definition concerning the classification of bands and artists. Although this sounds redundant, it's true. People can (and will) argue for hours about whether this or that band belongs in this or that sub-genre. This list is just a simple outline of the characteristics of each sub-genre, and by NO means a strict guideline. In fact, I happen to disagree with a few classifications, but have listed them because they are commonly recognized to be of that sub-genre. Remember, this is not a definitive list. - MP



A form concentrating on ambiance rather than normal characteristics such as melody, harmony and rhythm.

Examples: Some Eno, Laraaji, much new age music.

    Art Rock

A name that is used to refer to early explorative work that had roots in pop. Quite often a display of attitude in addition to any musical features. It is an abused term that seems to refer as much to appearance as to music in its more common coinage. (Symphonic Prog is often refereed to as Art Rock)

Examples: Be Bop Deluxe, early Eno, Roxy Music


This sub-genre is named after the specific area of England where the first groups originated from. The music is characterized by complex and intricate arrangements with elements influenced by jazz often prevalent in an airy way. One of the earliest forms recognized as progressive, Canterbury music emphasizes laconic complexity and usually sounds identifiably English. The ideas resulting from this form of music were very original. Within such serious music usually lurks humorous and fantasy themes.

Noted Groups include: Caravan, National Health, Soft Machine, Hatfield and The North

    Classical Rock

More accessibly related, bands starting with The Nice that attempted to fuse classical music with rock structures. Often felt to be quite pompous yet were quite successful in their time. Often a three man format.

Examples: The Nice, ELP, Le Orme, Ekseption, Trace, The Trip


Sometimes called "new age," much of this music was in existence well before the term was coined. The music is very explorative and this is a wide open field characterized by the use of almost all electronic equipment. Often a concentration on sonority and texture over and above other musical attributes. Often very spacious and ethereal. Sometimes quite darkly powerful but not in the way that ambient industrial material tends to be.

Examples: Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Kit Watkins, Jean-Michel Jarre, Steve Roach


Often hard core experimental material. The fringes of music where almost anything can happen. Almost always difficult for the newcomer. Considerable use of noise, found objects, music concrete and sometimes even power tools. Generally focusing on texture and sonority to the expense of all else. A fascinating area for the adventurous.

Examples: Einstürzende Neubauten, Nurse With Wound, Hafler Trio, Main, Coil


Mainly a genre based on an explorative fusion of Rock and Jazz, also incorporates a fusion of Country and Southern themes in the case of the Dixie Dregs. Characterized by a high level of improvisation and guitar virtuosity with interplay from other instruments, and jazz drumming. Usually an absence of vocals, the melodic and harmonic qualities keep the music flowing and interesting. Not as accessible as other sub-genres due to the complexity and improvisational nature.

Noted Artists: Mahavishnu Orchestra, Dixie Dregs, Bill Bruford, Allan Holdsworth, Brand X


Slightly politically incorrect term used harmlessly to refer to a form of usually rather strange rock originating from Germany in the 70s. Music of this genre is typified by loose, improvisation with a significant amount of experimentation and sometimes dark, whimsical flavor. Krautrock can often be difficult to listen to as it can be quite sinister and covertly intellectual. Very influential in all sorts of areas even today, commonly regarded as the precursor to industrial music, but there are as many similarities as differences.

Examples: Can, Amon Düül II, Faust, Xhol, Agitation Free, Ash Ra Tempel

    Neo-Classical Progressive

Music that fused 20th century classical music with new rock structures. Sometimes referred to as "chamber rock, this can be difficult to appreciate at first as artists of this ilk were way out on a limb and quite different. Also, it tends to be very complex, requiring many listens to reach a fair appreciation. One of the least understood genres about which most people are completely oblivious yet one of the most rewarding.
Examples: Univers Zero, Art Zoyd, ZNR



Basically carrying on where the classic symphonic groups like Genesis left off. Often rich and melodious but without the complexity of traditional progressive music, containing the harder edged guitar sound prevalent in the 80's. Fantasy themes still prevailed, but also present were more topics reflective of contemporary times. Previous virtuosity and grandeur are more subdued than in the past. Shorter song length makes this sub-genre more accessible to the uninitiated listener.

Examples: Marillion, IQ, Pendragon, Arena, Iluvatar

    Progressive Folk

A variety of music that took simple folk songs and did something quite new with them. There were many forms of this.

Examples: Fairport Convention, Emtidi, Witthüser & Westrupp, Malicorne, Mellow Candle

    Progressive Metal

A synthesis of the guitar dominated 80's sound of bands such as Metallica and Iron Madien and traditional Progressive tendencies. Much influence from harder progressive bands like Rush is also prevalent. Characterized by extreme virtuosity, power riffs, extended solos, time changes and metal vocals.

Noted Groups: Dream Theater, Symphony X, Fates Warning, Watchtower

    Rock In Opposition (RIO)

A name coined by ex-Henry Cow drummer Chris Cutler. This type of music consistently defies categorization (except for "RIO") and is extremely challenging and often hard to listen to. However, it is very rewarding in the long run. The lyrical bent is often political, especially for those bands Cutler has a hand in. Technically, bands like Art Zoyd and Univers Zero are RIO as they subscribed to Cutlers broad musical ethic in its original conception. However, the label has outgrown its original political connotations. RIO bands tend to be influenced more by 20th century classical music rather than the earlier classical that influenced the symphonic bands. The music is extremely challenging complex and, for most, is an acquired taste.

Examples: Henry Cow, Art Bears, Samla Mammas Manna, News From Babel, Thinking Plague, Etron Fou Leloublan etc.

    Space Fusion

A rough term given specifically to the superb band Gong for their unique blend of jazz fusion and extended sweeping ambiance. Often very energetic and concentrating on long jams of psychedelic tinged soloing. Generally a high level of musicianship in tight restraint to give a clean, atmosphere of bright and effervescent fusion. "Swooshy" is a perfect adjective.

Examples: Gong, Ozric Tentacles, Neo, Carpe Diem, some Djam Karet

    Space Rock

Born in the '60s with an early Pink Floyd, space rock is typified by swirling  guitars and keyboards, sometimes with a minimalist approach. While some of
the music from this sub-genre is soothing and relaxing, others take a more aggressive approach incorporating incessant grooves and wild guitar, keyboard

or even flute solos. Many space rock bands are all instrumental, but those with vocalists often focus on very cosmic themes. Like the above but without the jazz edge, more of a straight forward type of space rock. Ambient and electronic music is sometimes labeled as space rock. Hawkwind were almost the be all and end all of this genre and were the innovators.

Examples: Hawkwind, Ship of Fools, Quarkspace

    Symphonic Progressive

This category of progressive rock is where most of the well known bands fall (sometimes called Art Rock). Characterized by rich keys/synths and very melodic vocals and often structured like a piece of classical music, executed arrangements with a great deal of orchestration, sometimes creating extended songs in the form of multiparty suites. Very much stretching the limits of the rock format. Typically, lyrical content involves philosophy,  mysticism, the abstract or science fiction.

Examples: Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, Camel, Atoll, Mirthrandir, Änglagård


Essentially created by seminal French band Magma, Zeuhl is a very unique and very challenging form of jazz fusion, incorporating chanting, dissonance and loud rock. Stylistically there are elements of Coltrane, Bartok, Stockhausen, Duke Ellington, sometimes with heavy  influences but adopting a grandiosity and harmonic language from certain classical works, particularly Stravinsky's "Les Noces". Unlike anything else and a personal favorite of the present FAQ maintainer. Often powerful beyond words.

Examples: Magma, Eskaton, Shub-Niggurath, Honeyelk, Musique Noise